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Kunitz Breaks Through

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

After getting a huge 4-3 win over the Rangers in Game 2 of their opening-round series on Saturday in New York that evened the series at 1-1, after the team returned to Pittsburgh on Sunday Chris Kunitz said there was a buzz and an energy in the locker room that hadn’t been there for a while.

“We played a good game,” he said. “I think we know there’s areas that we can definitely improve in, but 5-on-5, we’re playing to our strengths and keeping the puck away from their speed wingers.”

And Kunitz was a big reason for that positive feeling, as the veteran winger had an excellent game. He finished with a goal, which stood as the game-winner, and two assists, and his three points tied his playoff single-game career high.

He was excellent at both even-strength, where he was reunited on a line with Sidney Crosby (and set the captain up with a gorgeous feed on his second goal), and on the power play, as he and the second unit came up with a pair of goals.

‘’Kuni’ certainly is a heck of a player for a reason,” defenseman Ian Cole said. “He’s been on this team for a long time. He’s been a leader on this team for a long time.”

It was the perfect time for Kunitz to break out with such a performance, as he’d had an uncharacteristically off year in terms of production.

After having a career year in 2013-14, setting new personal highs with 35 goals, 68 points, 13 power-play goals and eight game-winning goals, Kunitz dealt with several scoring slumps throughout the season and had just two goals in his last 34 games heading into Game 2. But that night, he led the way with a big game when his team needed it.

“For Chris, for sure, it was great to get the points, but really it’s about his overall game,” head coach Mike Johnston said. “He’s been getting scoring chances, he just hasn’t converted. So the odds are in his favor that they're going to fall like that. Certainly, I’m sure for him it’s a little bit of a weight off his shoulders. At times, guys that score, if they haven’t, if they’ve got the shots but it’s not going in for them, they start to feel it a little bit and you could see that with Chris, so it’s good for him but I just like his overall game. I thought he was really good with ‘Sid’ last night on the forecheck. He held onto the puck and made a couple great plays. One, obviously on Sid’s goal.”

With Crosby and Kunitz combining for three of the Pens’ four goals in the game, it was clear they enjoyed being back alongside each other on the ice.

“There’s a couple guys it’s obviously easy playing with on this team, but to go back out (with Crosby), I think any time you have success, you feel a little more confident,” Kunitz said. “And Sid getting a couple goals I think makes everyone feel a little more comfortable we’re going to put up more goals than one or two a night.”

However, while was certainly a boost to have a night like that, Kunitz cautioned that Saturday was just one game – both individually and as a team.

“It felt good to help contribute,” he said. “Everybody needed to elevate their game a little. It’s something that had been getting away from me for a while, but that being said, it’s only one game. I don’t think we really care who scores the goals or how it comes about. We’ve got to make sure we get four wins and we just got one."

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